Coming Together In Springfield for Criminal Justice Reform

Last week, the Charles Koch Institute traveled to the Land of Lincoln and partnered with the Illinois Policy Institute to host a discussion about the state’s criminal justice system. The panel event in Springfield, Illinois, included experts from Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Justice Fellowship, and the Shriver Center.

Samantha Gaddy, policy adviser for public safety with the Governor’s office, delivered the opening remarks and stressed examining “what [the criminal justice system] needs, what we are doing that is wasting taxpayer’s money, [and] what we can do to allow these offenders to be actually corrected while they are in the department of corrections and be able to move forward and become productive when they get out.”

 

The panelists reiterated the importance of reentry reform several times during their discussion. Todd Belcore, a staff attorney with the Shriver Center, surprised the audience with the fact that there are 344 laws on the books in Illinois that restrict opportunity for ex-offenders.

David Camic, senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute and a defense attorney, questioned Illinois’ approach to corrections, which he said was “warehousing these people for a fixed amount of time and then shooting them out the back door and saying best of luck to you.” According to Camic, this has done little to reduce the rate of recidivism. Currently, 48 percent of ex-offenders will return to prison within three years of their release.

“[Mandatory minimums] have done little to deter crime”
– Greg Newburn

For panelist Jesse Wiese, a policy analyst with Justice Fellowship who has experienced incarceration firsthand, Illinois’ criminal justice system lacks proper accountability, a large problem when considering that 95 percent of those incarcerated will eventually have to reenter society.

Greg Newburn, state policy director with Families Against Mandatory Minimums, continued by commending a newly created crime commission in Illinois which has included sentencing reform as a priority. Taking aim at mandatory minimums, Newburn pointed out that these laws have done little to deter crime, and prison populations and corrections budgets have skyrocketed as a result.

 

Despite the sobering facts of the discussion, Todd Belcore managed to help give the evening a positive ending. “The best way [forward] is to make sure everyone truly has access to the American Dream,” said Belcore. “That means people have the tools to succeed before they even get exposed to the criminal justice system.”

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